The Tao of
81 short chapters on
facilitating Open Space
by Chris Corrigan
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Too Te Ching text from:
Too Te Ching - Written by Lao-Tzu
For the PUBLIC DOMAIN
The tao that can be described
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken
is not the eternal Name.
The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of creation.
Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.
By having desire, you can only see what is visibly
Yet mystery and reality
emerge from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness born from darkness.
The beginning of all understanding.
Harrison Owen wrote that "holding space"
is an act that is at once totally present and
totally invisible. It is, like the Tao, an
activity that is characterized by paradox.
Holding space is about resting in the trust
that self-organization, that force which
created the universe and brought us to this
point, will continue to work its magic. To
prepare yourself to submit to the power of
self-organization, you must let go of
outcomes. You must breathe life into the
principle that "whatever happens is the
only thing that could have happened." We
learn to let our desires fall away and
confront what is present in the space, and
what is real and living before us.
To hold space is to rest in the chaos that is
darkness; a darkness that represents a vast
field of unknown potential. It is this field
that you are inviting to hum. From this
field understanding will blossom, light will
emerge, possibilities will grow.
When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.
Therefore the Master
can act without doing anything
and teach without saying a word.
Things come her way and she does not stop them;
things leave and she lets them go.
She has without possessing,
and acts without any expectations.
When her work is done, she takes no credit.
That is why it will last forever.
Non-doing defines doing. Sitting in
stillness invites people to move. Getting
out of the way allows people to fill space
with their passion. Letting go of
expectations leaves room for responsibility
to come forth. All of this is integrity. Every
piece of doing requires the strong presence
of non-doing to anchor it.
Stifling every impulse to intervene, to give
directions and orders leaves space for
others to design their lives. You can create
a container and then stand by and watch it
fill and teem with life. You don't resist the
natural movements of groups of people co-
creating their futures. Instead you work on
your own inability to be still, to want to
own the outcomes, to want to invest your
This is not your show. You are holding
space, embodying space and being empty
and full at the same time. If they thank you
in the closing circle, you have not done
If you overly esteem talented individuals,
people will become overly competitive.
If you overvalue possessions,
people will begin to steal.
Do not display your treasures
or people will become envious.
The Master leads by
emptying people's minds,
filling their bellies,
weakening their ambitions,
and making them become strong.
Preferring simplicity and freedom from desires,
avoiding the pitfalls of knowledge and wrong action.
For those who practice not-doing,
everything will fall into place.
We begin with people in a circle. There are
no names, not titles, no ranks or
descriptions. Just a circle of people, being a
They gaze at one another. Invited to sweep
the circle with their eyes, note who is here
and contemplate what they know and what
they don't know.
It is not your job at this point to say that
you have credentials. It is not your job to
seek approval from them. You simply walk
the circle, inviting eyes to connect, inviting
hearts to meet in the empty space you are
about to hold.
The Tao is like an empty container:
it can never be emptied and can never be filled.
Infinitely deep, it is the source of all things.
It dulls the sharp, unties the knotted,
shades the lighted, and unites all of creation with
It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it .
It is older than the concept of God.
It is called "Open Space." The centre is
empty except for a few tools. These tools
are all that is needed to completely fill the
Blank sheets of paper are open to any
possibility. Entirely new worlds can be
created out of this emptiness. Great
quantities of unknown energy can coalesce
around the invitation to step into the full
emptiness and give birth to the new.
You are holding this space. You have all of
creation in your hands, like a delicate glass
ball. You must simply allow it to rest there,
and let the people draw on the echoes
planted in their genes, and continue the
journey of evolution together.
Heaven and Earth are impartial;
they treat all of creation as straw dogs.
The Master doesn't take sides;
she treats everyone like a straw dog.
The space between Heaven and Earth is like a
it is empty, yet has not lost its power.
The more it is used, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you comprehend.
It is better not to speak of things you do not
What can you possibly say?
In a room of twenty people there are XX
millions of possibilities. How can you
evaluate them? As they engage in action,
who can say that there is a better way?
We dance around the stunning vibrancy of
energy filling the space. We cannot know
what will happen, and as we watch it
unfold, we cannot judge it's efficacy. The
more energy that falls into the centre, the
more energy the centre produces. Passion
flooding into the middle inspires
passionate engagement on the edges.
It is your job to marvel as it happens all
around you. Someone must sit in non-
judgment and hold forth the belief that all
possibilities may exist.
Spirit of emptiness
The spirit of emptiness is immortal.
It is called the Great Mother
because it gives birth to Heaven and Earth. The middle of the space is empty. It is
it is like a vapor itself, the space of invitation, a space of
barely seen but always present. possibility, a space that gives rise to any
Use it effortlessly. , ,. , _,. ,,
potential, any direction, any result.
Open Space is a way of navigating
everything and nothing. Holding space is
the art of being completely present, and
The Tao of Heaven is eternal,
and the earth is long enduring.
Why are they long enduring?
They do not live for themselves;
thus they are present for all beings.
The Master puts herself last;
And finds herself in the place of authority.
She detaches herself from all things;
Therefore she is united with all things.
She gives no thought to self.
She is perfectly fulfilled.
This is the pure practice of servant
leadership. You have nothing to offer in
terms of direction, only a container to hold
and a will to manifest. You place yourself
outside the circle, get out of the way when
the marketplace opens and you find that
the group manages itself.
You stay away to the side, observe with
compassion but remain detached from the
outcome. You trust the people, the process,
the great truth unfolding, and find yourself
folding in to the emergence which is
springing out all around you.
The supreme good is like water,
which benefits all of creation
without trying to compete with it.
It gathers in unpopular places.
Thus it is like the Tao.
The location makes the dwelling good.
Depth of understanding makes the mind good.
A kind heart makes the giving good.
Integrity makes the government good.
Accomplishments makes your labors good.
Proper timing makes a decision good.
Only when there is no competition
will we all live in peace.
What we want is to facilitate the flow of
collaboration. Your role is to care for the
small intangibles, the space, the quality of
the invitation, the integrity of the offering.
There may be conflicting ideas and
contrasting statements. There may be heat
between participants. But if there is truly
an open space, then all of this can be
accommodated. Opposites can meet on the
same agenda, collaboration can be invited,
transcendent ideas can come forward.
The open space is the place that frees
participants from the need to beat each
other. All they are left with then is the
invitation to work.
It is easier to carry an empty cup
than one that is filled to the brim.
The sharper the knife
the easier it is to dull.
The more wealth you possess
the harder it is to protect.
Pride brings it's own trouble.
When you have accomplished your goal
simply walk away.
This is the path way to Heaven.
When the space has been opened, and the
people are working, Harrison tells us to
pick up coffee cups. We can care for the
space at the same time as we are reminded
that carrying emptiness is easier than trying
to fit everything into the cup.
And when the event is over, walk away
and let the people embrace each other,
share their comments with one another,
exchange smiles and astonishment. It is
their work, and you have held space for it
and that is all. All that is left to do is to
Nurture the darkness of your soul
until you become whole.
Can you do this and not fail?
Can you focus your life-breath until you become
supple as a newborn child?
While you cleanse your inner vision
will you be found without fault?
Can you love people and lead them
without forcing your will on them?
When Heaven gives and takes away
can you be content with the outcome?
When you understand all things
can you step back from your own understanding?
Giving birth and nourishing,
making without possessing,
expecting nothing in return.
To grow, yet not to control:
This is the mysterious virtue.
Grow, not control
You are being asked to do something that
seems so counterintuitive that at first blush
it also seems impossible. There is nothing
to direct, no expertise to share, and no way
you can take credit for what has happened.
Whatever happens is the only thing that
To do this you need to be clear, to
understand that whatever gets made is not
yours, and however people feel is not a
result of you. When you see the pattern
emerge, you must simply let it emerge and
let everyone else discover it to.o After all,
that is how you got started doing this.
You have tilled the ground in which the
people have planted seeds. What has
grown is theirs.
Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that allows the wheel to function.
We mold clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes the vessel useful.
We fashion wood for a house,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes it livable.
We work with the substantial,
but the emptiness is what we use.
Open Space works because of the space in
the middle, the empty, open invitation to
action. As you walk the circle to open
space, sometimes you might want to walk
in lines across the middle of the circle, to
invite people to come forward out of their
chairs, to transit the face of emptiness and
begin filling their container with ideas.
But there is another emptiness to cultivate
and that is the emptiness within you. Free
of expectation, free of attachments to
outcomes, you can be the best example to
the participants of using emptiness to work
Five colors blind the eye.
Five notes deafen the ear.
Five flavors makes the palate go stale.
Too much activity deranges the mind.
Too much wealth causes crime.
The Master acts on what she feels
and not what she sees.
She shuns the latter,
and prefers to seek the former.
No amount of slick presentation, pleasing
to the eye, attractive to the ear, sensual to
the touch, is going to bring the future to
fruition. A tug only, at the heart, at our
faculties to sense what wants to be born:
that is what draws us together.
The act of holding space demands that your
turn your eyes and ears inward and still
yourself while the invitations unfold
Success is as dangerous as failure,
and we are often our own worst enemy.
What does it mean
that success is as dangerous as failure?
He who is superior is also someone's subordinate.
Receiving favor and loosing it both cause alarm.
That is what is meant
by success is as dangerous as failure.
What does it mean
that we are often our own worst enemy?
The reason I have an enemy
is because I have "self.
If I no longer had a "self",
I would no longer have an enemy.
Love the whole world as if it were your self;
then you will truly care for all things.
Let go of self
The key to holding space is letting go of
your self and becoming unattached from
the work. If you can't do this, then people
will blame you for their failures and praise
you for their successes. Neither condition
When you walk the circle, when you sit
with the process, watch that your body
language does not say "I am in charge."
Align your actions with your statements,
and your being with the invitation you
have just issued.
Look for it, and it can't be seen.
Listen for it, and it can't be heard.
Grasp for it, and it can't be caught.
These three cannot be further described,
so we treat them as The One.
It's highest is not bright.
It's depths are not dark.
Unending, unnameable, it returns to nothingness.
Formless forms, and image less images,
subtle, beyond all understanding.
Approach it and you will not see a beginning;
follow it and there will be no end.
When we grasp the Tao of the ancient ones,
we can use it to direct our life today.
To know the ancient origin of Tao:
this is the beginning of wisdom.
Harrison Owen once called Open Space
"vapourware." There are a million people
who want to describe it, but no one is ever
satisfied with the explanation.
It arises from an empty circle and returns to
an empty circle. To come into an Open
Space meeting from the outside is to see a
coffee break in progress. To sit in an Open
Space meeting all day is to be taken on
journeys of unfathomable depth.
How can you facilitate this?
The Sages of old were profound
and knew the ways of subtlety and discernment.
Their wisdom is beyond our comprehension.
Because their knowledge was so far superior
I can only give a poor description.
They were careful
as someone crossing an frozen stream in winter.
Alert as if surrounded on all sides by the enemy.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Whole as an uncarved block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Turbid as muddied water.
Who can be still
until their mud settles
and the water is cleared by itself?
Can you remain tranquil until right action occurs by
The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.
For only those who are not full are able to be used
which brings the feeling of completeness.
The only way "Whatever happens is the
only thing that could have happened" can
be a principle that comes to life is if you
approach each Open Space with a flexible
mind. You come like a guest to a group of
people, not knowing them, not seeking
By remaining true to the process and open
to the outcome, you begin to embody
clarity. By remaining calm, you invite
action. By remaining empty you encourage
If you can empty your mind of all thoughts
your heart will embrace the tranquility of peace.
Watch the workings of all of creation,
but contemplate their return to the source.
All creatures in the universe
return to the point where they began.
Returning to the source is tranquility
because we submit to Heavens mandate.
Returning to Heavens
mandate is called being constant.
Knowing the constant is called 'enlightenment 1 .
Not knowing the constant
is the source of evil deeds
because we have no roots.
By knowing the constant
we can accept things as they are.
By accepting things as they are,
we become impartial.
By being impartial, we become one with Heaven.
By being one with Heaven,
we become one with Tao.
Being one with Tao,
we are no longer concerned about
loosing our life because we know the Tao is constant
and we are one with Tao.
You cannot hold space if you are already
full. Holding space requires all of your
capacity, offered fully and with certainty.
Your concerns don't matter to the group, so
your preparation is directed at shedding
Holding space is about being the
fundamental character the group is seeking.
If it's clarity, be clear, if it's peace, be peace.
Are you clear now? Are you peace in this
The best leaders are those
the people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised.
If you don't trust the people,
they will become untrustworthy.
The best leaders value their words,
and use them sparingly.
When she has accomplished her task,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!"
We did it
Holding space demands that you be the
best kind of leader, without compromise.
Trust the group, be totally present and
If the people did not do it themselves, it is
not Open Space.
When the great Tao is abandoned,
charity and righteousness appear.
When intellectualism arises,
hypocrisy is close behind.
When there is strife in the family unit,
people talk about 'brotherly love'.
When the country falls into chaos,
politicians talk about 'patriotism'.
It is the stories and constructions that we
create to maintain our power that obscures
us from seeing our true nature.
Whatever these stories are, it is up to you to
invite an opening through. Power founded
on contrivance is useless for making
Forget about knowledge and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times better off. „ n , , , . . , .
Throw away charity and righteousness, °P en S P ace ls a sm P le y et elegant thing.
and people will return to brotherly love. Don't burden it with wit and savvy and
Throw away profit and greed, _. , ,, , , ,
and there won't be any thieves. expertise. Simply walk to the centre of the
circle, explain the process and get out of the
These three are superficial and aren't enough
to keep us at the center of the circle, so we must way.
Embrace simplicity. This is opening space.
Put others first.
Renounce knowledge and your problems will end.
What is the difference between yes and no?
What is the difference between good and evil?
Must you fear what others fear?
Nonsense, look how far you have missed the mark!
Other people are joyous,
as though they were at a spring festival.
I alone am unconcerned and expressionless,
like an infant before it has learned to smile.
Other people have more than they need;
I alone seem to possess nothing.
I am lost and drift about with no place to go.
I am like a fool, my mind is in chaos.
Ordinary people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Ordinary people are clever;
I alone am dull.
Ordinary people seem discriminating;
I alone am muddled and confused.
I drift on the waves on the ocean,
blown at the mercy of the wind.
Other people have their goals,
I alone am dull and uncouth.
I am different from ordinary people.
I nurse from the Great Mother's breasts.
You stand in relation to nothing. Model
enthusiasm, revel in the joy of empty space
and full potential.
But don't model enthusiasm because
people are timid, don't revel in joy because
people are frightened. Don't try to create
conditions that aren't there.
You know what could happen here.
Welcome it. Embrace it with everything
you are. You have been nourished by life.
Standing in the middle of the circle, in utter
silence, is the time to live.
The greatest virtue you can have
comes from following only the Tao;
which takes a form that is intangible and evasive.
Even though the Tao is intangible and evasive,
we are able to know it exists.
Intangible and evasive, yet it has a manifestation.
Secluded and dark, yet there is a vitality within it.
It's vitality is very genuine.
Within it we can find order.
Since the beginning of time, the Tao has always
It is beyond existing and not existing .
How do I know where creation comes from?
I look inside myself and see it.
Care of life
Open Space is not a tool to be modified and
changed to suit your whims. It is born out
of the fundamental processes of life: self-
organization, a desire to improve, a will to
It is not the process that needs
modification; it is ourselves. When you feel
the need to change it, look within you, find
that impulse and change that instead. Then
you keep the space as open as yourself.
If you want to become whole,
first let yourself become broken.
If you want to become straight,
first let yourself become twisted.
If you want to become full,
first let yourself become empty.
If you want to become new,
first let yourself become old.
Those whose desires are few gets them,
those whose desires are great go astray.
For this reason the Master embraces the Tao,
as an example for the world to follow.
Because she isn't self centered,
people can see the light in her.
Because she does not boast of herself,
she becomes a shining example.
Because she does not glorify herself,
she becomes a person of merit.
Because she wants nothing from the world,
the world can not overcome her.
When the ancient Masters said,
"If you want to become whole,
then first let yourself be broken,"
they weren't using empty words.
All who do this will be made complete.
Way of life
The four principles:
• Whoever comes are the right people
• Whatever happens is the only thing
that could have happened
• When it starts is the right time.
• When it's over, it's over
The Law of Two Feet:
If you find yourself in a place where
you are not learning or contributing,
move somewhere where you can.
These are not just clever statements. They
are guides for living a life in open space.,
lowering oneself, bending and
disappearing into wholeness and life.
Nature uses few words:
when the gale blows, it will not last long;
when it rains hard, it lasts but a little while;
What causes these to happen? Heaven and Earth.
Why do we humans go on endlessly about little
when nature does much in a little time?
If you open yourself to the Tao,
you and Tao become one.
If you open yourself to Virtue,
then you can become virtuous.
If you open yourself to loss,
then you will become lost.
If you open yourself to the Tao,
the Tao will eagerly welcome you.
If you open yourself to virtue,
virtue will become a part of you.
If you open yourself to loss,
the lost are glad to see you.
"When you do not trust people,
people will become untrustworthy."
Once you truly understand Open Space ,
once you have embraced it and worked
with it and invited it to meld with your life,
then you can embody it.
You meet the stares of cynical disbelief and
the skeptical murmurs and model your
own enthusiasm for what is transpiring,
using few words and simple questions.
What do you really want to do? Why don't
you take care of it?
Let's trust one another to meet our own
needs that way.
Those who stand on tiptoes
do not stand firmly.
Those who rush ahead
don't get very far.
Those who try to out shine others
dim their own light.
Those who call themselves righteous
can't know how wrong they are.
Those who boast of their accomplishments
diminishes the things they have done.
Compared to the Tao, these actions are unworthy.
If we are to follow the Tao,
we must not do these things.
In the glorious enfolded Now, we have
everything we need. We can choose to
explode it everywhere at once, or to tease
out the threads and follow their unraveling.
But we can't draw sustenance from
expecting great things in short measure,
nor can we say that what we are doing has
great merit. When it starts is the right time,
when it's over it's over. These things say
nothing about scale, Tightness or great
things. The skill we need is to keep focused
on the Now, which contains everything.
Before the universe was born
there was something in the chaos of the heavens.
It stands alone and empty,
solitary and unchanging.
It is ever present and secure.
It may be regarded as the Mother of the universe.
Because I do not know its name,
I call it the Tao.
If forced to give it a name,
I would call it 'Great'.
Because it is Great means it is everywhere.
Being everywhere means it is eternal.
Being eternal means everything returns to it.
Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
Humanity is great.
Within the universe, these are the four great things.
Humanity follows the earth.
Earth follows Heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.
Chaos as natural law
Nothing truly new is born from encrusted
forms. At play in the spaces we create are
all the forces of Creation; the balled-up
energy, the fantastic potential of a universe
unfolding from the chaos of beginning.
When people are nervous, or aimlessly
perusing the marketplace, this is when you
can be most vigilant. Watch for that spark,
the spark of creation that, in a moment, tips
the chaos towards order, begins the journey
towards the point embodied in the
invitation. We follow the natural laws to
the letter. We need only acknowledge them
Heaviness is the basis of lightness.
Stillness is the standard of activity.
Thus the Master travels all day
without ever leaving her wagon.
Even though she has much to see,
is she at peace in her indifference.
Why should the lord of a thousand chariots
be amused at the foolishness of the world?
If you abandon yourself to foolishness,
you lose touch with your beginnings.
If you let yourself become distracted,
you will lose the basis of your power.
Your job is not to do the work of the group.
Your job is not to involve yourself in the
small distractions of the day. Your job is
not to feel anxious for all the people who
are struggling with their learning.
Stay focused on your job: holding space.
Remain at peace in the chaos, remain
detached in the emerging swirl of
attachment. People will be shedding
stories and assumptions all around you.
Avoid catching them.
A good traveler leaves no tracks,
and a skillful speaker is well rehearsed.
A good bookkeeper has an excellent memory,
and a well made door
is easy to open and needs no locks.
A good knot needs no rope and it can not come
Thus the Master is willing to help everyone,
and doesn't know the meaning of rejection.
She is there to help all of creation,
and doesn't abandon even the smallest creature.
This is called embracing the light.
What is a good person but a bad person's teacher?
What is a bad person
but raw material for his teacher?
If you fail to honor your teacher
or fail to enjoy your student,
you will become deluded
no matter how smart you are.
It is the secret of prime importance.
How can you help everyone and serve no
one? Everyone in your group is uniquely
capable of caring for their needs. Holding
space means attending to the container in
which all of this creation is occurring.
All day, you are confronted with
opportunities to learn about yourself, as
you patch the holes and strengthen the
walls of the container. You serve creation
when you hold a space for it to work. You
serve all the people when you fall away
from their journeys and let them create
their own footprints.
Know the masculine,
but keep to the feminine:
and become a watershed to the world.
If you embrace the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you become as a little child.
Know the white,
yet keep to the black:
be a model for the world.
If you are a model for the world,
the Tao inside you will strengthen
and you will return whole to your eternal beginning.
Know the honorable,
but do not shun the disgraced:
embracing the world as it is.
If you embrace the world with compassion,
then your virtue will return you to the uncarved
The block of wood is carved into utensils
by carving void into the wood.
The Master uses the utensils, yet prefers to keep to
because of its limitless possibilities.
Great works do not involve discarding substance.
Chaos and order swirl around you and
within you. You find that spot where they
fall from you equally, neither one tipping
you from your balance.
You need to hold out both the positive
space of what is happening and the
negative space of what is not happening. In
the act of making something, people do not
so much assemble things, as remove space
from between the parts of the whole.
Suddenly the light shines through and
That space is yours to hold and offer to the
group so they may use it to fill out the
intricate patterns of their creation.
Do you want to rule the world and control it?
I don't think it can ever be done.
The world is sacred vessel
and it can not be controlled.
You will only it make it worse if you try.
It may slip through your fingers and disappear.
Some are meant to lead,
and others are meant to follow;
Some must always strain,
and others have an easy time;
Some are naturally big and strong,
and others will always be small;
Some will be protected and nurtured,
and others will meet with destruction.
The Master accepts things as they are,
and out of compassion avoids extravagance,
excess and the extremes.
Let go of control
This is the hardest part. Until you have
held space, you have no idea the extent to
which the impulse to control things is alive
in you. It shows up in Open Space in the
subtlest ways: wanting to order to the wall,
wanting to turn up the heat, wanting to
move chairs into circles.
So hear this deeply: you are not in control.
Everything you do for the group is one less
thing they know they can do for
themselves. Your role is to hold this big
space, full of compassion and acceptance
that whatever happens is the only thing
that could have happened.
Your body and soul will ache at times.
Your volition to move in will become
overpowering. Simply notice this impulse.
Gift it to yourself and spare the group from
your own private tortures.
Those who lead people by following the Tao
don't use weapons to enforce their will.
Using force always leads to unseen troubles.
In the places where armies march,
thorns and briars bloom and grow.
After armies take to war,
bad years must always follow.
The skillful commander
strikes a decisive blow then stops.
When victory is won over the enemy through war
it is not a thing of great pride.
When the battle is over,
arrogance is the new enemy.
War can result when no other alternative is given,
so the one who overcomes an enemy should not
The strong always weakened with time.
This is not the way of the Tao.
That which is not of the Tao will soon end.
It seems like there is always someone who
knows more than anyone else. They will
appear from time to time with demands,
big and small. Sometimes it is a simple
question, occasionally it is an outright
rejection of what is happening. In all
forms, subtle and helpful as well as bold
and destructive, these people are fighting to
hold on to themselves. It is a hard thing to
watch, worse still if you are the target of
With practice you can see them and with
practice you can embrace a space big
enough for them to dwell. If you close the
space to accommodate their fears, you
prevent the group from helping them to
grow, and you deny the group the
possibility of its learning how to
So inwardly, bite your tongue. Thank them
and move on.
Weapons are the bearers of bad news;
all people should detest them.
The wise man values the left side,
and in time of war he values the right.
Weapons are meant for destruction,
and thus are avoided by the wise.
Only as a last resort
will a wise person use a deadly weapon.
If peace is her true objective
how can she rejoice in the victory of war?
Those who rejoice in victory
delight in the slaughter of humanity.
Those who resort to violence
will never bring peace to the world.
The left side is a place of honor on happy occasions.
The right side is reserved for mourning at a funeral.
When the lieutenants
take the left side to prepare for war,
the general should be on the right side,
because he knows the outcome will be death.
The death of many
should be greeted with great sorrow,
and the victory celebration should honor those who
The way we are with one another is the
way we want to be. Groups are full of the
violence of dying, the railing and fighting
against the decay of old order and control.
You are complicit in this if you take the side
of those who espouse violent tactics to
move their agenda forward.
So you stay on the other side, hold space
for the possibility that there is another way
to be in the world, that the death and war
around you does not want to thrive.
Open Space is a place where even the
staunchest soldiers can confront the sorrow
and loss of the wars they champion. It is a
place that opens a new reflective moment.
You are the germ of that idea.
The Tao is nameless and unchanging.
Although it appears insignificant,
nothing in the world can contain it.
If a ruler abides by its principles,
then her people will willingly follow.
Heaven would then reign on earth,
like sweet rain falling on paradise.
People would have no need for laws,
because the law would be written on their hearts.
Naming is a necessity for order,
but naming can not order all things.
Naming often makes things impersonal,
so we should know when naming should end.
Knowing when to stop naming,
you can avoid the pitfall it brings.
All things end in the Tao
just as the small streams and the largest rivers
flow through valleys to the sea.
Keep it short
The Creator sang the universe into creation,
and named everything.
So all you have to do is state the principles
and the law. It is not up to you to force
those on people, but simply to name this
space as one that is bounded by a few
simple, universal rules. Groups don't need
theory, they don't even need to know the
name of the process. It's better not to tell
them what Open Space is.
Simply name the principles and the law,
open space, and everything will take care of
itself. The order we get for free contains
everything the group needs. You have
nothing to add.
Those who know others are intelligent;
those who know themselves are truly wise.
Those who master others are strong; ,, 1,1111 1
those who master themselves have true power. You can onl Y trul Y hold s P ace when Y ou
Those who know they have enough are truly . , ,, , ,. n
wealthy, job takes tremendous effort, but it is effort
know what you are made of. At times, this
job takes tremendous effort, but it is effort
directed inward, at the embers that smolder
Those who persist will reach their goal. . , . , , . , , ,
m you, that raise the heat in your body and
Those who keep their course have a strong will. sen d your mind into spasms.
Those who embrace death will not perish,
but have life everlasting.
Those are the things over which you have
control. It is better to sit in the corner and
extinguish those fires than to think you can
put out the blazes of passion in the group.
The great Tao flows unobstructed in every direction.
All things rely on it to conceive and be born,
and it does not deny even the smallest of creation.
When it has accomplishes great wonders,
it does not claim them for itself.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn't seek to master the smallest creature.
Since it is without wants and desires,
it can be considered humble.
All of creation seeks it for refuge
yet it does not seek to master or control.
Because it does not seek greatness;
it is able to accomplish truly great things.
Open Space is not magic
You have opened a space and the group is
at work within it. But you haven't opened
a space - the sponsor has. And the sponsor
hasn't opened a space - the space has
always been there.
What you are seeing can happen anytime.
It is something anyone can have. It is right
there, bounding every act of creation, every
inspiration and every idea.
It is not yours and nothing that happens
within it belongs to it. The magic is not
Open Space. The magic is the loosening of
chains and the dissolving into what is.
she who follows the way of the Tao Why are we paying you?
will draw the world to her steps.
She can go without fear of being injured, n , .,, ,
because she has found peace and tranquility in her Sometimes, people will come to you and
heart. ask why you are being paid.
Where there is music and good food,
people will stop to enjoy it. Simply smile and respond
But words spoken of the Tao " . .
seem to them boring and stale. compassionately.
When looked at, there is nothing for them to see.
When listen for, there is nothing for them to hear.
Yet if they put it to use, it would never be When people are able to take
exhausted. responsibility for their own passion,
management gets really easy."
If you want something to return to the source,
you must first allow it to spread out.
If you want something to weaken,
you must first allow it to become strong.
If you want something to be removed,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to possess something,
you must first give it away.
This is called the subtle understanding
of how things are meant to be.
The soft and pliable overcomes the hard and
Just as fish remain hidden in deep waters,
it is best to keep weapons out of sight.
Don't look for answers in the directions
that people want to go. The furthest goal
lies on the other side of the invitation.
Invite people to action, but hold space for
rest. Invite people to peace, but hold space
for conflict. Invite growth, but hold space
for germination. Invite fullness but hold
space for generosity.
Being counterintuitive is the gift you give
to the group. It opens space when their
momentum seeks to close.
The Tao never acts with force,
yet there is nothing that it can not do.
If rulers could follow the way of the Tao,
then all of creation
would willingly follow their example.
If selfish desires
were to arise after their transformation,
I would erase them
with the power of the Uncarved Block.
By the power of the Uncarved Block,
future generations would loose their selfish desires.
By loosing their selfish desires,
the world would naturally settle into peace.
It's all yours
There is a moment right after you have
introduced the process and you are
opening up the space for topics to be
posted. In this moment, you must step out
of the space and give it all over to the
group. The space is empty of form, simply
the imprint of your energy on the circle,
markers and paper in the middle awaiting
the creative energy of the group.
"It's all yours." The group becomes the
sculptor and the space becomes the
The highest good is not to seek to do good,
but to allow yourself to become it.
The ordinary person seeks to do good things,
and finds that they can not do them continually.
The Master does not force virtue on others,
thus she is able to accomplish her task.
The ordinary person who uses force,
will find that they accomplish nothing.
The kind person acts from the heart,
and accomplishes a multitude of things.
The righteous person acts out of pity,
yet leaves many things undone.
The moral person will act out of duty,
and when no one will respond
will roll up his sleeves and uses force.
When the Tao is forgotten, there is righteousness.
When righteousness is forgotten, there is morality.
When morality is forgotten, there is the law.
The law is the husk of faith,
and trust is the beginning of chaos.
Our basic understandings are not from the Tao
because they come from the depths of our
The master abides in the fruit and not in the husk.
She dwells in the Tao,
and not with the things that hide it.
This is how she increases in wisdom.
Being open space
Holding space means becoming singularly
indistinct from the laws and the principles
you have just talked about. You are
embodying everything that lies at the heart
of the process. Open Space is not a set of
prescriptions, it is a way of being. It is a
way of people working and living together,
without force, without effort, without duty.
To hold a space for passion and
responsibility to work, you get inside
everything that is enfolding around you
and you stay there, inside the contrivances,
inside the image, inside the trappings.
The essence of Open Space is in the stillness
and emptiness at the centre. Be in that
space while everything swirls around you.
The masters of old attained unity with the Tao.
Heaven attained unity and become pure.
The earth attained unity and found peace.
The spirits attained unity so they could minister.
The valleys attained unity that they might be full.
Humanity attained unity that they might flourish.
Their leaders attained unity that they might set the
This is the power of unity.
Without unity, the sky becomes filthy.
Without unity, the earth becomes unstable.
Without unity, the spirits become unresponsive and
Without unity, the valleys become dry as a desert.
Without unity, human kind can't reproduce and
Without unity, our leaders become corrupt and fall.
The great view the small as their source,
and the high takes the low as their foundation.
Their greatest asset becomes their humility.
They speak of themselves as orphans and widows,
thus they truly seek humility.
Do not shine like the precious gem,
but be as dull as a common stone.
To facilitate open space you must facilitate
nothing. To hold space you hold nothing.
To make something from these efforts you
must create nothing.
Attaining unity means to bring spirit and
matter together. Bring passion and
responsibility together. Bring time and
space together. Bring presence and absence
You are totally present and completely
All movement returns to the Tao.
Weakness is how the Tao works.
All of creation is born from substance.
Substance is born of nothing-ness.
Arrive early and leave late. Then you will
see that an empty room lies on either end of
Open Space. You can feel it fill with life
and ebb again. Beginning in silence,
ending in silence, transformation in the
When a superior person hears of the Tao,
She diligently puts it into practice.
When an average person hears of the Tao,
he believes half of it, and doubts the other half.
When a foolish person hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud at the very idea.
If he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao.
Thus it is said:
The brightness of the Tao seems like darkness,
the advancement of the Tao seems like retreat,
the level path seems rough,
the superior path seem empty,
the pure seems to be tarnished,
and true virtue doesn't seem to be enough.
The virtue of caution seems like cowardice,
the pure seems to be polluted,
the true square seems to have no corners,
the best vessels take the most time to finish,
the greatest sounds cannot be heard,
and the greatest image has no form.
The Tao hides in the unnamed,
Yet it alone nourishes and completes all things.
Hiding in the unnamed
When you feel the need to do more, find a
way to do less. When you think there is
something else to day, look for another way
to be silent. When you grasp at outcomes
and desire results, open your hand and
In Open Space, action arises from stillness.
The answers are contained in the question.
The essence is hiding and you are inviting
it into the room.
The Tao gave birth to One.
The One gave birth to Two.
The Two gave birth to Three.
The Three gave birth to all of creation.
All things carry Yin
yet embrace Yang.
They blend their life breaths
in order to produce harmony.
People despise being orphaned, widowed and poor.
But the noble ones take these as their titles.
In loosing, much is gained,
and in gaining, much is lost.
What others teach I too will teach:
"The strong and violent will not die a natural death.
The chaos of the marketplace loosens up
connections, expectations and intentions.
Serendipity, proximity and synchronicity
take over and order arises.
There is no way to work with these
dynamics. We must instead step away and
allow people to find their place, allow
topics to attract the right people, allow
whatever happens to happen.
The group gains from this because
synergies occur where passions overlap
and meet and envelop one another and
friends and collaborators are quickly found.
There is no forcing together of the pieces
that requires continued force to stay
together. People are instead bound by the
magnetic forces of invitation, call and
That which offers no resistance,
overcomes the hardest substances.
That which offers no resistance
can enter where there is no space.
Few in the world can comprehend
the teaching without words,
or understand the value of non-action.
Handling space invaders
Most people don't want to be space
invaders, but by their actions they close
space just the same. When someone seems
to want to run things, and steps to the
middle to try to gain something from the
circle, just go and stand beside that person.
Remain silent, and remain close.
The person will soon feel what it is like to
have space close. Things will then usually
Which is more important, your honor or your life?
Which is more valuable, your possessions or your
Which is more destructive, success or failure?
Because of this, great love extracts a great cost
and true wealth requires greater loss.
Knowing when you have enough avoids dishonor,
and knowing when to stop will keep you from
and bring you a long, happy life.
Doing just enough
To open space requires only a few minutes
of introduction and instruction. Whether
you do this well or badly hardly seems to
matter. The success or failure of the group
is entirely up to them.
The group does not need you to invest in
them, to teach them or to guide them. They
don't need your presence at all.
Simply open space and sit with them.
The greatest accomplishments seem imperfect,
yet their usefulness is not diminished.
The greatest fullness seems empty,
yet it will be inexhaustible.
The greatest straightness seems crooked.
The most valued skill seems like clumsiness.
The greatest speech seems full of stammers.
Movement overcomes the cold,
and stillness overcomes the heat.
That which is pure and still is the universal ideal.
Not what you expect
Start with no agenda and one will emerge.
Begin with nothing and great depths will
flood in. Whatever happens is the only
thing that could have happened, and yet
that crooked and twisty path leads us to the
moment of action.
At the end of a day a half, savour the
moment between the close of the space and
the opening of the new world.
When the world follows the Tao,
horses run free to fertilize the fields.
When the world does not follow the Tao,
war horses are bred outside the cities.
There is no greater transgression
than condoning peoples selfish desires,
no greater disaster than being discontent,
and no greater retribution than for greed.
Whoever knows contentment will be at peace
We are conditioned to believing that
controlling things gets us results. When we
bend to the temptation to control, we create
an awful lot of hard work for ourselves.
We have to become responsible for
animating that which is within, and staving
off the attacks from outside.
The first time someone comes to Open
Space it seems that the choice is between
control and chaos. In reality it is the choice
between misery and contentment.
Without opening your door,
you can know the whole world.
Without looking out your window,
you can understand the way of the Tao.
The more knowledge you seek,
the less you will understand.
The Master understands without leaving,
sees clearly without looking,
accomplishes much without doing anything.
It's all in the room
When you open the space acknowledge
that everything we might become is here in
the room. All the potential for change, the
capacity to do it well, the future that wants
to be born - it's all in the room.
We sometimes think that we need to gather
knowledge from environmental scans,
surveys, focus groups. It's as if the answers
lie outside of ourselves somewhere.
There is stuff to learn out there, but the best
questions and the right answers are right
here, right now.
One who seeks knowledge
One less thing
learns something new every day. ^ ,.. .. c
one who seeks the Tao Cultivating a practice of opening space
unlearns something new every day. means constantly finding things not to do.
Less and less remains until you arrive at non-action. _ , , .,., , , .... ,.
when you arrive at non-action, For most facilitators, facilitating open space
nothing will be left undone. runs counter to everything that we know.
Mastery of the world is achieved
by letting things take their natural course. But if we practice finding those things we
You can not master the world by changing the
natural way. cling to and let go of them, gradually we
will develop a practice of opening space
that welcomes the group fully into it's
work. And you will find that many other
things change too.
The Master has no mind of her own.
She understands the mind of the people.
To those who are good she treats as good.
To those who aren't good she also treats as good.
This is how she attains true goodness.
She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren't trustworthy.
This is how she gains true trust.
Meet each as they are
Whoever comes are the right people means
we meet the people in Open Space in all of
the possibility of their true potential. And
beyond this, we don't even bring that
judgment to work.
The Master's mind is shut off from the world.
Only for the sake of the people does she muddle her Meet people as they are and let them be
mind - what they will be and flow will show up in
They look to her in anticipation.
Yet she treats them all as her children. Open Space. You have nothing to do with
their work but to hold the container for it
all to unfold.
Those who leave the womb at birth
and those who enter their source at death,
of these; three out of ten celebrate life,
three out often celebrate death,
and three out of ten simply go from life to death.
What is the reason for this?
Because they are afraid of dying,
therefore they can not live.
I have heard that those who celebrate life
walk safely among the wild animals.
When they go into battle, they remain unharmed.
The animals find no place to attack them
and the weapons are unable to harm them.
Why? Because they can find no place for death in
When you enter the circle to bring life to
the group, your greatest task is to embody
the life you are inviting. If you are inviting
fierceness in the face of confusion and grief,
you must stand fiercely against confusion
and grief. If you are not afraid of Open
Space then others will not be afraid of Open
Our shadows play in this arena. Our fear
of death stops us from welcoming life. Our
normal complacency prevents us from
attending to this work mindfully.
But the fundamental motion is to walk into
that space with the strong knowledge that
all that happens in there serves life.
The Tao gives birth to all of creation.
The virtue of Tao in nature nurtures them,
and their family give them their form.
Their environment then shapes them into
That is why every creature honors the Tao and its
No one tells them to honor the Tao and its virtue,
it happens all by itself.
So the Tao gives them birth,
and its virtue cultivates them,
cares for them,
gives them a place of refuge and peace,
helps them to grow and shelters them.
It gives them life without wanting to posses them,
and cares for them expecting nothing in return.
It is their master, but it does not seek to dominate
This is called the dark and mysterious virtue.
People fret that structure leads to action.
That is true, but it is not the structure from
outside that leads to actions, it is the
structure that emerges from inside that is
where the explosion of action originates.
Like a seed that contains the tree.
Open Space, empty and receiving, is the
ground in which structure organizes the
support and growth of action from ideas.
From that empty place, small invitations
emerge. From the small invitations,
conversation nurtures growth. From that
growth comes the momentum that attracts
the resources of time and attention and
money to see the ideas to completion.
The emptier the space the more giving it is
and the more intricate the action that
emerges. There is no need to talk about it,
because that only confuses things. Just
offer it and hold it open.
The world had a beginning
which we call the Great Mother.
Once we have found the Mother,
we begin to know what Her children should be.
When we know we are the Mothers child,
we begin to guard the qualities of the Mother in us.
She will protect us from all danger
even if we lose our life.
Keep your mouth closed
and embrace a simple life,
and you will live care-free until the end of your
If you try to talk your way into a better life
there will be no end to your trouble.
To understand the small is called clarity.
Knowing how to yield is called strength.
To use your inner light for understanding
regardless of the danger
is called depending on the Constant.
Self -organization happens in Open Space
because self -organization happens
everywhere else. It is the story of
everything that has occurred to this
moment and will occur in the next one. As
Brian Swimme once said, the miracle of the
universe is that you start with a cloud of
hydrogen, wait 15 billion years and
suddenly - opera!
We are indeed children of this dynamic.
We owe our very existence to self-
organization. And if self-organization can
produce something as gloriously beautiful
as a human baby, it should do fine for
anything we use it for.
It is not complicated, but it is simplicity
that welcomes and holds complexity. It is
not strong but it is yielding that allows
strength to grow.
It creates whole universes by doing nothing
If I understood only one thing,
I would want to use it to follow the Tao.
My only fear would be one of pride.
The Tao goes in the level places,
but people prefer to take the short cuts.
If too much time is spent cleaning the house
the land will become neglected
and full of weeds,
and the granaries will soon become empty
because there is no one out working the fields.
To wear fancy clothes and ornaments,
to have your fill of food and drink
and to waste all of your money buying possessions
is called the crime of excess.
Oh, how these things go against the way of the Tao!
One of the conditions under which Open
Space works best is where there are high
levels of diversity. People want easy
answers and a clear path to a goal. But
where there are a diversity of questions,
there arises a multiplicity of answers and a
variety of paths. And when these emerge,
each can join the path that takes them in the
easiest way to the places we all need to go.
To invest in one set of solutions, to assume
that there is one path when complexity and
diversity has created the conditions for our
current situation, is to neglect the truth in
favour of the preferences of ego and pride.
This only serves ego and pride and not the
deep questions that we are able to ask of
In convergence, hold space for possibility
and don't join the allure of the glamorous
solution. Wise action invites all to join
where they can.
That which is well built
will never be torn down.
That which is well latched
can not slip away.
Those who do things well
will be honored from generation to generation.
If this idea is cultivated in the individual,
then his virtue will become genuine.
If this idea is cultivated in your family,
then virtue in your family will be great.
If this idea is cultivated in your community,
then virtue will go a long way.
If this idea is cultivated in your country,
then virtue will be in many places.
If this idea is cultivated in the world,
then virtue will be with everyone.
Then observe the person for what the person does,
and observe the family for what it does,
and observe the community for what it does,
and observe the country for what it does,
and observe the world for what it does.
How do I know this saying is true?
I observe these things and see.
Space can be closed, but space holding
cannot collapse. Invitations may come and
go, but invitation is always present.
Practicing the way of invitation and
holding means that whether you are in
Open Space or not, you will always be
holding space, and the results may flow in
yourself, your family, your community,
your nation and your world.
Practice well so that the practice survives,
even as projects come and go, spaces open
and close, bodies arise and die.
One who is filled with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
The infant is protected from
the stinging insects, wild beasts, and birds of prey.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is firm and strong.
It doesn't know about the union
of male and female,
yet his penis can stand erect,
because of the power of life within him.
It can cry all day and never become hoarse.
This is perfect harmony.
To understand harmony is to understand the
To know the Constant is to be called 'enlightened'.
To unnaturally try to extend life is not appropriate.
To try and alter the life-breath is unnatural.
The master understands that when something
reaches its prime
it will soon begin to decline.
Changing the natural is against the way of the Tao.
Those who do it will come to an early end.
Whatever happens is full
Unless you approach each Open Space with
new eyes, you will never see the life that is
there. Everyone thinks they know what
will happen and so that is what they look
for. You alone know that whatever
happens is the only thing that could have,
and that which happens is full of the new
life that arises from emergence.
So hold this stance, so that others may learn
to join you in it to appreciate that as the
event itself opens and closes, ideas and
actions too arise and pas away, leaving in
their wake a trail of life and change.
Embody from the first moment that
whatever happens is full of life.
Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.
meditate in silence,
blunt your sharpness,
release your worries,
harmonize your inner light,
and become one with the dust.
Doing this is the called the dark and mysterious
Those who have achieved the mysterious identity
can not be approached, and they can not be
They can not be benefited nor harmed.
They can not be made noble nor to suffer disgrace.
This makes them the most noble of all under the
Fully present, totally
Your job is simply to be fully present and
People will ignore you. They will forget
that you are there. They will take
responsibility for what they love and not
expect anything else of you.
And when you have disappeared to them
they will only feel themselves acting within
the space you helped them create.
Govern your country with integrity,
Weapons of war can be used with great cunning,
but loyalty is only won by not-doing.
How do I know the way things are?
The more prohibitions you make,
the poorer people will be.
The more weapons you posses,
the greater the chaos in your country.
The more knowledge that is acquired,
the stranger the world will become.
The more laws that you make,
the greater the number of criminals.
Therefore the Master says:
I do nothing,
and people become good by themselves.
I seek peace,
and people take care of their own problems.
I do not meddle in their personal lives,
and the people become prosperous.
I let go of all my desires,
and the people return to the Uncarved Block.
Space invaders become more plentiful the
more rules you have. Open Space runs on
four principles and one law and that is all
you need. More than that and people
become "space invaders" to you,
demanding the open space they were
Resist the temptation to help people by
giving them rules of conduct. People know
what their work is. Invite them to peace
and they will move to peace. Fence them in
and they will first try to break out and then
move to peace.
Passion bounded by responsibility. That is
58 Conflict and trouble
If a government is unobtrusive,
the people become whole. „, . . , , .., ., .
If a government is repressive, There are two wa Y s to deal wlth thm g s
the people become treacherous. falling apart. You can remain out of the
Good fortune has its roots in disaster, wa Y and let thin S s take their course. Or
and disaster lurks with good fortune. you can step in and try to control the
Who knows why these things happen,
or when this cycle will end? Situation.
Good things seem to change into bad,
and bad things often turn out for good.
These things have always been hard to comprehend. The answer is in the fire of trouble. When
the people themselves struggle with their
Thus the Master makes things change
without interfering. own conflicts and are able to take
She is probing yet causes no harm. responsibility for resolution, they will find
Straightforward, yet does not impose her will.
Radiant, and easy on the eye. the way that works for themselves. It will
be a way of which you are totally unaware.
The most you can do is ask a question:
What do you really want to do? Why don't
you take of it?
Simply embody the hope that there is a
way to loosen the struggle and peace will
There is nothing better than moderation
for teaching people or serving Heaven.
Those who use moderation
are already on the path to the Tao.
Those who follow the Tao early
will have an abundance of virtue.
When there is an abundance of virtue,
there is nothing that can not be done.
Where there is limitless ability,
then the kingdom is withing your grasp.
When you know the Mother of the kingdom,
then you will be long enduring.
This is spoken of as the deep root and the firm
the Way to a long life and great spiritual vision.
Open Space should not work. It should be
impossible to put people together in a room
with no agenda and have them create
powerful and transformative conversations.
That's the hard part. Rest in that and the
impossible becomes possible everywhere
60 Don't tinker
Governing a large country
is like frying small fish. „, . , . , . , ,
Too much poking spoils the meat. The moment you begin to tinker, you steal
the responsibility that holds the body
When the Tao is used to govern the world ,, „, , , , , , ,, ,
then evil will loose its power to harm the people. together. The darkest shadows therefore
Not that evil will no longer exist, w iU see k you out and you will be expected
but only because it has lost its power. 1, i v.
Just as evil can loose its ability to harm, to neal tnem.
the Master shuns the use of violence.
if you give evil nothing to oppose, Let them dissolve into your space and they
then virtue will return by itself. w jji heal themselves.
A large country should take the low place like a
which from its low position assumes the female role.
The female overcomes the male by the power of her
Her tranquility gives rise to her humility.
If a large country takes the low position,
it will be able to influence smaller countries.
If smaller countries take the lower position,
then they can allow themselves to be influenced.
So both seek to take the lower position
in order to influence the other, or be influenced.
Large countries should desire to protect and help the
and small countries should desire to serve others.
Both large and small countries benefit greatly from
Let the centre receive the
When the moment of invitation is released,
the flood moves in towards you. Abide in
the centre for a moment and then move
aside and let the centre receive the energy
All the intention to improve, to move
towards good, to correct, is then directed to
the whole itself and everyone is nourished.
The Tao is the tabernacle of creation,
it is a treasure for those who are good,
and a place of refuge for those who are not.
How can those who are not good be abandoned?
Words that are beautiful are worth much,
but good behavior can only be learned by example.
When a new leader takes office,
don't give him gifts and offerings.
These things are not as valuable
as teaching him about the Tao.
Why was the Tao esteemed by the ancient Masters?
Is it not said: "With it we find without looking.
With it we find forgiveness for our transgressions."
That is why the world can not under stand it.
Offering Open Space as
All you can do with Open Space is enter it.
You cannot deplete it, but only make more
Be open space and offer it to others as
Act by not acting;
do by not doing.
Enjoy the plain and simple.
Find that greatness in the small.
Take care of difficult problems
while they are still easy;
Do easy things before they become too hard.
Difficult problems are best solved while they are
Great projects are best started while they are smal
The Master never takes on more than she can
which means that she leaves nothing undone.
When an affirmation is given too lightly,
keep your eyes open for trouble ahead.
When something seems too easy,
difficulty is hiding in the details.
The master expects great difficulty,
so the task is always easier than planned.
Back up the flow
"Whoever comes is the right people" means
that even the smallest group is capable of
great depth. If we are able to focus the
powerful lens of conversation on the subtle
apprehension of issues before they are
problems and opportunities before they are
solutions, we have the chance to make the
small adjustments to take these things to a
powerful and positive end.
In action planning then, it is most
important simply to find the next thing to
do, to create momentum, to commit to
carrying forward the momentum of the
event, to agree to continue bringing
conversation to the subtlest details, currents
If we deal with the erosive power of water
at the highest levels, we can channel it's
flow into growth and sustenance without
building a dam to impede it downstream.
Things are easier to control while things are quiet.
Things are easier to plan far in advance.
Things break easier while they are still brittle.
Things are easier hid while they are still small.
Prevent problems before they arise.
Take action before things get out of hand.
The tallest tree
begins as a tiny sprout.
The tallest building
starts with one shovel of dirt.
A journey of a thousand miles
starts with a single foot step.
If you rush into action, you will fail.
If you hold on too tight, you will loose your grip.
Therefore the Master lets things take their course
and thus never fails.
She doesn't hold on to things
and never looses them.
By pursing your goals too relentlessly,
you let them slip away.
If you are as concerned about the outcome
as you are about the beginning,
then it is hard to do things wrong.
The master seeks no possessions.
She learns by unlearning,
thus she is able to understand all things.
This gives her the ability to help all of creation.
Attend to the beginnings
If we demand to see the results of our work
immediately, we are deluding ourselves
about the way the world works. We are not
capable of massive change with instant
actions. The power of leadership comes
when we direct our energies to the proper
Open Space reveals powerful channels of
subtle action often at the growing edge of
change. Therefore we need to support this
capacity with an excellent invitation that
fully understands what this chance is and
that attracts people into the space with a
sense of undeniably inevitability that THIS
conversation may change everything.
And yet, the opening of the day must focus
the participants on their ability to sense the
opportunities in flow, to play and
experiment and to find ways of acting that
trust the effects of work downstream.
We can never know; we can only act for
The ancient Masters
who understood the way of the Tao,
did not educate people, but made them forget.
Smart people are difficult to guide,
because they think they are too clever.
To use cleverness to rule a country,
is to lead the country to ruin.
To avoid cleverness in ruling a country,
is to lead the country to prosperity.
Knowing the two alternatives is a pattern.
Remaining aware of the pattern is a virtue.
This dark and mysterious virtue is profound.
It is opposite our natural inclination,
but leads to harmony with the heavens.
We delude ourselves into thinking that we
know what's going to happen. We have
been schooled this way; to imagine that the
answers float in, borne on the wings of an
Authority who rules on the quandaries
When we enter open space, these delusions
fall away. Only deliberation will save us,
and that means trusting into a bigger whole
than perhaps we have ever met. It is a
shock to be stranded in the flow with no
certainty or authority upon which to
anchor. But if we are aware of our own
capacities to connect and create emergence
with others, nothing can stand for long.
Hold space for this, and remember what it
feels like to have your world rocked. Your
people will benefit from that empathy.
Rivers and seas are rulers
of the streams of hundreds of valleys
because of the power of their low position.
If you want to be the ruler of people,
you must speak to them like you are their servant.
If you want to lead other people,
you must put their interest ahead of your own.
The people will not feel burdened,
if a wise person is in a position of power.
The people will not feel like they are being
if a wise person is in front as their leader.
The whole world will ask for her guidance,
and will never get tired of her.
Because she does not like to compete,
no one can compete with the things she
Once the space is open, simply move out of
the way and take Harrison's advice: collect
coffee cups. It will make the space safer,
and it will give you something to do that
serves the group and stays out of its way.
The group will find unanticipated levels of
greatness if you stay out of the way.
So to achieve great things, get the coffee
cups cleared away.
The world talks about honoring the Tao,
but you can't tell it from their actions.
Because it is thought of as great,
the world makes light of it.
It seems too easy for anyone to use.
There are three jewels that I cherish:
compassion, moderation, and humility.
With compassion, you will be able to be brave,
With moderation, you will be able to give to others,
With humility, you will be able to become a great
To abandon compassion while seeking to be brave,
or abandoning moderation while being benevolent,
or abandoning humility while seeking to lead
will only lead to greater trouble.
The compassionate warrior will be the winner,
and if compassion is your defense you will be
Compassion is the protector of Heavens salvation.
Offering out of care
Everyone wants to be free, to have space
open around them, and it seems an easy
thing to have in principle.
But to live there, in open space, you must
see that freedom in terms of what can be
offered to others. Sharing that hard won
perspective requires compassion for others,
moderation in what you offer and humility
about your own journey and aspirations.
If you can't be compassionate, you can;t see
how Open Space works for others. If you
are not moderate in your own life, you will
have nothing to share, and if you relinquish
humility you create dependence and
therefore the opposite effect.
You only work this, hold this space and
offer this gift out of care.
The best warriors
do not use violence.
The best generals
do not destroy indiscriminately.
The best tacticians
try to avoid confrontation.
The best leaders
becomes servants of their people.
This is called the virtue of non-competition.
This is called the power to manage others.
This is called attaining harmony with the heavens.
Holding space is an act of courage and
leadership. It takes resolve to stand still
and trust that the people with whom you
are working know what to do. You act
contrary to what it seems a leader is called
to do. You invite rather than compel,
cherish diversity rather than a single view,
see clarity in the generative nature of
You invite offerings, shared ideas and
collaboration and management becomes so
light and easy that the very idea
There is an old saying:
"It is better to become the passive
in order to see what will happen.
It is better to retreat a foot
than to advance only an inch."
This is called
being flexible while advancing,
pushing back without using force,
and destroying the enemy without engaging him.
There is no greater disaster
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means loosing your greatest assets.
When equal forces meet in battle,
victory will go to the one
that enters with the greatest sorrow.
The aikido of solutions
The pressing problems of our time are
wicked, complex, unanswerable questions.
How do we feed the world? What is the
best path to peace? Are we doomed?
These questions themselves arise out of a
steady movement and negotiation of ideas
and situations. They sit cunningly at our
feet and stare into our eyes and infect our
souls with their pleading. And simple
answers seem only to feed their power to
But they contain the seeds of their own
answering. We see how they move into our
sphere and we become like they are,
pervasive, experimental, seeping into
If you engage the wicked problems of our
time with their own tools - passion,
complexity, diversity and urgency - then
you retain your own ground and avoid the
grief of losing your way. But you must
hold space for that.
See what energy these problems offer and
use it to move past them with joy and
My words are easy to understand DClliy
and easier to put into practice.
Yet no one in the world seem to understand them, . , ,. . . , „ ,• ., . . . ,
and are not able to apply what I teach. And ultimately, all of this is just words, just
a way of talking about what is already
My teachings come from the ancients, , _ _ , ,
the things I do are done for a reason. known. Open Space surrounds you; the
teachers of this are everywhere. How else
Because you do not know me, ,, lr . . ,
you are not able to understand my teachings. could self-organization proceed?
Because those who know me are few,
my teachings become even more precious. .
Leave the teachings for practice. Leave the
practice for being.
Knowing you don't know is wholeness. lUally
Thinking you know is a disease.
Only by recognizing that you have an illness , , . , .
can you move to seek a cure. There ls onl y one cure for the anxiety of not
knowing what will happen: curiosity.
The Master is whole because _ l , , . .,,
she sees her illnesses and treats them, Everyone wants to know how it will go.
and thus is able to remain whole. Some are sure it will be great; others are
certain it will be a disaster. What do you
I don't know. But I'm curious to find out.
When people become overly bold,
then disaster will soon arrive.
Do not meddle with peoples livelihood;
by respecting them they will in turn respect you.
Nothing to say
You may never need to say the words
"Open Space." You may never utter the
principles and the law. If you have lost
your sense of wonder, you may fall back on
Therefore, the Master knows herself but is not
She loves herself but also loves others. .
This is how she is able to make appropriate choices, tools. But try not to become the expert.
What the people have done, they have done
themselves. Leave it with them.
Being over bold and confidant is deadly.
The wise use of caution will keep you alive.
One is the way to death,
and the other is the way to preserve your life.
Who can understand the workings of Heaven?
The Tao of the universe
does not compete, yet wins;
does not speak, yet responds;
does not command, yet is obeyed;
and does act, but is good at directing.
The nets of Heaven are wide,
but nothing escapes its grasp.
Ease as service
A space easily opened is easily held. A
space held with ease is big enough for
competition, answers, conclusions and
accomplishments, even as it invites
collaboration questions, hypotheses and
visions. Ease in service of the whole, and
inviting all in.
if you do not fear death, Whatever happens
then how can it intimidate you?
If you aren't afraid of dying, XT . . „ ., , , „ c
there is nothing you can not do. Next to a11 the words of °P en S P ace '
Harrison Owen used the word "control"
Those who harm others c „ „ -,,.-, t m
are like inexperienced boys most of alL As m Y ou don * have it, you 11
trying to take the place of a great lumberjack. never get it, it's all an illusion and to think
Trying to fill his shoes will only get them seriously , , , ,
hurt " otherwise is to get a sharp lesson from
whatever is about to happen."
Let go into uncertainty and see what comes.
When people go hungry,
the governments taxes are too high.
When people become rebellious,
the government has become too intrusive.
When people begin to view death lightly,
wealthy people have too much
which causes others to starve.
Only those who do not cling to their life can save it.
There are four principles and one law and
one invitation. That is all you need.
Anything more than this and people crave
freedom. Any more rules and people
abandon their responsibility.
Open space for the people, not for yourself.
Trust them. They'll make it.
The living are soft and yielding;
the dead are rigid and stiff.
Living plants are flexible and tender;
the dead are brittle and dry.
Those who are stiff and rigid
are the disciple of death.
Those who are soft and yielding
are the disciples of life.
The rigid and stiff will be broken.
The soft and yielding will overcome.
Flow in the marketplace
Agendas exists solely to control what
happens. They are rigid and inflexible in
the service of power. But in Open Space
invitation in the marketplace is the agenda
- flexible, adaptable, all in the service of
Agendas come undone with contention, but
marketplaces only grow larger and more
active with one more offering of passion
and responsibility. Left alone, everything
that wants to get done can get done.
The Tao of Heaven works in the world
like the drawing of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
The excess is taken from,
and the deficient is given to.
The Tao works to use the excess,
and gives to that which is depleted.
The way of people is to take from the depleted,
and give to those who already have an excess.
Who is able to give to the needy from their excess?
Only some one who is following the way of the Tao.
This is why the Master gives
expecting nothing in return.
She does not dwell on her past accomplishments,
and does not glory in any praise.
There is no higher practice than making
good. And there is nothing better to give
than rich, fertile space - space that
cultivates accumulation of goodness and
that offers it all back to its source.
Water is the softest and most yielding substance.
Yet nothing is better than water,
for overcoming the hard and rigid,
because nothing can compete with it.
Everyone knows that the soft and yielding
overcomes the rigid and hard,
but few can put this knowledge into practice.
Therefore the Master says:
"Only he who is the lowest servant of the kingdom,
is worthy to become its ruler.
He who is willing tackle the most unpleasant tasks,
is the best ruler in the world."
True sayings seem contradictory.
Service in the midst
Water flows around every obstacle and
eventually moves them all. When grief and
sorrow erupt in the space, you are called
simply to stand in its midst and exercise
great serenity as you let yourself flow with
that force. Then you become the most
valuable resource for the people; standing
in a place of calm to which their hearts may
Difficulties remain, even after solving a problem.
How then can we consider that as good?
Therefore the Master The responsibility for the quality of your
does what she knows is right, experience rests solely with you. If you
and makes no demands of others. ,. , ."'.,'
A virtuous person will do the right thing, fmd y our experience wanting for
and persons with no virtue will take advantage of something, go inside and learn what you
can about yourself . Hold space also for this
The Tao does not choose sides, inquiry in others,
the good person receives from the Tao
because she is on its side.
Small countries with few people are best.
Give them ail of the things they want,
and they will see that they do not need them.
Teach them that death is a serious thing,
and to be content to never leave their homes.
Even though they have plenty
of horses, wagons and boats,
they won't feel that they need to use them.
Even if they have weapons and shields,
they will keep them out of sight.
Let people enjoy the simple technologies,
let them enjoy their food,
let them make their own clothes,
let them be content with their own homes,
and delight in the customs that they cherish.
Although the next country is close enough
that they can hear their roosters crowing and dogs
they are content never to visit each other
all of the days of their life.
The practice of peace
When people are able to meld their passion
and responsibility, to focus on what gives
life and is right before them, they set to
work. And when the invitation is to work
to contribute to good, their work becomes
the practice of peace.
Open Space can be the pure practice of
peace. Holding space can be the highest
True words do not sound beautiful;
beautiful sounding words are not true.
Wise men don't need to debate;
men who need to debate are not wise.
Wise men are not scholars,
and scholars are not wise.
The Master desires no possessions.
Since the things she does are for the people,
she has more than she needs.
The more she gives to others,
the more she has for herself.
The Tao of Heaven nourishes by not forcing.
The Tao of the Wise person acts by not competing.
Give it away
Harrison Owen released Open Space to the
world. With few words and a wave of the
hand, he offered it to all.
Take a lesson from him. Give more than
you are willing to and set your highest
work into the world, so all may benefit
from the spaces you will hold so
— To Caitlin, Aine and Finn for holding a space
of deep love with me and for sharing our
practice ground together.
— To my Open Space teachers Harrison,
Michael, Lisa, Birgitt, Peggy, Toke, Larry and
— To the world community of Open Space
facilitators who continue to inspire, humour
and offer themselves so beautifully to this
Find out more about Open Space Technology at
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